Common behavioural problems in rescue dogs every adopter needs to know!

Whether a rescue dog was born on the streets, abandoned, neglected, or worst-case scenario, the victim of abuse, it goes without saying that they have experienced their fair share of hard times. More often than not, these dogs are understandably prone to developing certain issues, including anxiety disorders, destructive behaviour, and other physical manifestations of fear and distress. However, over the hundreds of rescue dogs, we have worked with over the years, we are always impressed with their resilience and courage. Most dogs end up in shelters through no fault of their own, but their ability to bounce back from even the most tragic situations just show how remarkable they are.

Do all Rescue Dogs have behavioural problems?

Every dog is different and has its own unique story, just like every human. Dogs previously raised in nurturing environments tend to be more adaptable to new things, while those that have had little social contact or positive experiences with people and other dogs will need time to acclimate.

How long does it take a rescue dog to adjust?

While the majority of these behaviours can be corrected with adequate knowledge, love, patience, time and occasionally the assistance of a professional trainer, it’s important to recognize the 5 most common behavioural problems in your four-legged friend so that you may help him acclimate to his new environment.

Fear and Anxiety are one of the most common behavioural issues in a rescue dog. Just because your new fur-baby is out of the confines of a shelter doesn’t mean he’ll automatically feel relaxed and show his true personality from the get-go. He has travelled a long journey, that would give the best of us jet-lag for at least a week, to another country, so a lot of patience is needed.

Most dogs are traumatized and stressed out to some degree upon arriving and will need a good deal of time to get used to everything, including you. Many have never walked on carpet, heard the noise of a vacuum or washing machine, seen a cat, been around a child, and are used to having their guard up to protect themselves. So, there's no surprise how it can be overwhelming for any rescue dog to begin with.

Take things slowly, and give them the time to feel things out. Your rescue will be trying to figure out if they are in a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ place, and therefore may show signs of uncertainty, panic, fear or anxiety. How do you welcome a Rescue Dog into your home? When your rescue pet arrives, let them know they are in a secure environment by giving them plenty of space. You should have their littler area set up ready with beddings, toys, food and water close enough where they can feel safe. Each dog is different, so it’s worth experimenting at the beginning to see what works with your pooch. Some dogs find crating comforting, especially when there is a towel or blanket added for darkness and warmth.

The best advice? Leave them to come to you when they are good and ready. They may hideaway, for a while, but give them time - eventually, they will know they are not in harm's way and come out. You can offer them snacks, and reassure them in a calming voice that they are safe. Just don’t be too affectionate, or over-loving too soon because it might stress them out even more.

After being homeless their entire lives, it is completely understandable that your rescue dog might experience separation anxiety when you are not around.

Separation Anxiety is a condition in which an animal is so upset when left alone that he reacts in a variety of ways, such as excessive barking, destroying the furniture or digging, intense pacing or circling or having accidents inside the house.

There are lots of ways you can help your doggo overcome their fears when it comes to separation anxiety. Head over to our recent blog post where you can discover the top 11 training steps you can take to keep your rescue dog happy and healthy while being left alone at home.

More than likely your rescue pet has come from a competitive background where he has had to battle it out when it came to dinner time. If your dog is showing signs of aggression, including growling, baring his teeth, snarling, lunging or even biting during his mealtime, chances are he’s still feeling insecure that his food might be in jeopardy or taken away.

Reassure your dog by moving their food bowl to their bedding area, or another enclosed small room and don’t disturb him until he’s finished eating. That way, he will soon realize over time that he doesn’t need to guard his food. With a little bit of reassurance, patience and love your pup will soon get familiar with the new dining arrangements.

Dogs have an amazing internal clock and crave rituals and routine. Therefore, when it comes to meal-time for your pooch, consistency is key. Creating a regular feeding schedule by feeding him at the same time every day, will help alleviate his anxiety while curbing his aggressive behaviour.

Resource guarding is canine behaviour that exemplifies a dog’s ‘ownership’ over ‘their’ things, such as toys, water, food, and even people. Similar to food aggression, this sort of possessive behaviour is commonly recognized in rescue dogs, particularly because they were forced to compete and share everything their entire lives, including attention from a human.

Fear not - despite resource guarding is a natural behaviour trait in many rescue dogs, it is still possible to condition your pup to abandon this attitude! Soon as your dog understands he doesn't have to compete or guard his favourite things, or people his protective behaviour will stop. One of our favourite methods, which’s suitable for older dogs as well as puppies, is to reward your dog with extra food at mealtime for following a command.

This way they get the feeling once again that you are the source of all good things, but most importantly that they have a chance to earn extra grub.

Whatever you do, never react to their misbehaviour with physical punishment. You have a duty to build a strong relationship and develop trust with your rescue dog and by establishing boundaries, and showing them affection it will happen naturally. Research methods to discipline your pet and educate yourself as a fur-baby parent; if you need resources of assistance, contact us at any time, or your vet, or a licenced dog trainer for professional guidance.

In a new environment, with exciting new smells, it’s normal for your dog to want to thoroughly explore his whereabouts. He will want to sniff every inch of your home and garden and suss out where he is, however he may be tempted to mark his turf. (And we don’t just mean outside)

Especially if your pup smells another dog, he may be tempted to mark his territory by urinating. Even dogs that have been housebroken, can still do this.

How to stop a dog from lifting his leg up in the house?

Experts say to use redirection to train you're out of a bad habit and make sure you do it before he's invested in thinking it's acceptable to lift his leg up on the couch. It doesn't do much good do redirect your dog after he's already done his business. That's a little too late. The ideal time to redirect a dog is to catch him in the act, and redirect the instant he cocks his leg up.

The key to success in all dog behavioural issues in our eyes is repetition. Eventually, your dog will learn what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.